VHS-Era Horror Director Returns With A Vengeance -- And Nicolas Cage

Mike Ramsey
January 20, 2020 - 9:43 am
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(WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- In the early-1990s era of VHS cassettes and video rentals, horror film director Richard Stanley made a name for himself with a pair of low-budget wonders before virtually disappearing.

Hardware (1990) was a stylish Alien-Terminator hybrid about a fragmented killer machine that rebuilds itself. The atmospheric Dust Devil followed two years later. Next up for Stanley was a Hollywood-backed adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau, starring Marlon Brando. Fate had other plans. Stanley was fired before studio meddling and Brando's erratic suggestions birthed one of the most whacked-out misfires of all time. A 2014 documentary explores the making of the 1996 disaster.

Stanley directed shorter pieces and documentaries in ensuing years but never seemed to realize his early potential. Until now, maybe. His gory take on writer H.P. Lovecraft's Color Out of Space -- starring Nicolas Cage as the head of a family beseiged by an alien mutation -- opens Friday Jan. 24 only in theaters, including Chicago's Music Box Theatre

The 53-year-old Stanley recently talked by telephone about his re-emergence, Cage's potential to be the next Vincent Price and his plans to revisit Lovecraft's universe of evil cosmic gods itching to wipe out the human race. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation. 

WBBM NEWSRADIO: I couldn't help but notice there's a cameo by Marlon Brando, in a vintage film clip played on a television, toward the end of your new movie. Was that a benevolent shout-out or some kind of catharsis?

RICHARD STANLEY: It was one way of getting Brando into one of my movies. In truth, One-Eyed Jacks, the film that we see at the end of Color Out of Space, is public domain. I'm super tired of seeing Night of the Living Dead every time we turn on the television.

Color Out Of Space Production Still
Madeleine Arthur in "Color Out of Space" (RLJE Films)

WBBM: Setting aside the Dr. Moreau saga, if that's even possible, you obviously have talent, based on Hardware and Dust Devil. Why did it take so long for you to direct another full-length feature? Was it a self-imposed exile, or were you considered toxic by some in the film industry?

RS: I think I was probably too sort of toxic for folks in the industry for quite a long while. But also, because I hadn't broken contracts or done anything to warrant removing me from the production, it meant that New Line Cinema and their parent company, Time Warner, were forced to pay me out a pretty substantial settlement after Island of Dr. Moreau, which meant I technically didn't have to work for a living anymore. I drifted away from the world and followed my heart, initially trying to get away from human beings completely. 

WBBM: Was it necessary for you to get away from filmmaking and filmmakers for awhile, too?

RS: I remember Marlon Brando told me at the end of Moreau that I was too nice for the film industry [editor's note: Stanley famously disguised himself as an extra and snuck back onto the set]. He said that everyone in the film industry were hyenas, and he said I should try to make myself a meaningful life in the outside world. It was only after a few years in the outside world that I realized Brando had been in the industry so long that he'd failed to realize that people are the same all over. They're just as bad in the outside world as they are in the industry.

Richard Stanley
Film director Richard Stanley (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

WBBM: How did you approach working with Nicolas Cage and did you have any reservations, given that he can be such a force of nature? Or did you say, 'Bring it on'? [editor's note: Cage brings it on in Color Out of Space]

RS: Me and Nic had been striking sparks off each other for a number of years. We initially talked about working together in the early-90s when Nic was briefly in the frame for Dust Devil. We share a very similar sensibility, which is helpful in that I tend to see all of my work as being as kind of a deadpan apocalyptic black comedy. Things are really terrible, but at the same time underneath it all there's also a level of queasy -- I guess, in gore terms, I'd almost think of it as 'splatstick.' 

WBBM: Splatstick!

RS: Yeah, extemely cruel comedy underneath it all, and Nic has this innate sense of comic timing, which he manages to bring even to scenes that aren't inherently funny, which I super-admire. Given his strengths, if Nic keeps creating these extraordinary character parts -- and he's doing about three good ones a year at the moment -- he's en route to becoming maybe the next Vincent Price. 

Color Out Of Space Production Still
Joely Richardson and Nicolas Cage star in "Color Out Of Space." (RLJE Films)

WBBM: You were recently quoted as saying you'd like to do two more Lovecraft adaptations, beginning with The Dunwich Horror, which was written in 1928. Would this likewise be a modernized piece, and what significance does Lovecraft have today, given that we're all plugged into our phones and obsessed with electronics?

RS: Sadly, I think Lovecraft has probably more significance today than ever before. If there's one word I want to step away from it's probably 'quaint,' which is why I'll re-set it into the present day. Because I figured Cthulhu and The Old Ones can be reconfigured as a clear and present danger to people now and to generations to come. ... Lovecraft's utterly implacable, ultra-dimensional alien gods are oddly probable at this point in time.